Monday, April 5, 2010

Of iPads, Tiger and Choices

It's that time again, friends.  Time to look around and take some lessons from some of the high-profile stories making the news today.  No, I'm not talking about Opening Day in baseball, although I am a huge baseball fan (Go Rockies).

I'm talking about two stories, one that made the headlines in a big way over the weekend and another one that will be dominating the news in about three days.  I'm talking iPads and Tiger.

Small businesses and non-profits can learn a lot from both of these stories, from marketing, image building and reconstruction, to developing brand loyalty and crisis mitigation.  These are all very VERY important aspects of growing your bottom line.  And the beauty of it all is that these entities (Apple and Tiger) are blazing a path wide enough for everyone to follow.  Another added benefit is that you can learn from their efforts without suffering similar growing pains and without spending your life savings achieving success.

First, the iPad:

To be clear, this isn't a review of the iPad.  In fact, for our purposes, the the iPad itself isn't the focus of our lesson today.  The story of this past weekend, as more than 700,000 freshly-minted iPads landed in the hands of eager consumers, wasn't the device itself.  No, the story is actually Apple and how it has cornered the market on new technology buzz and nearly fanatical brand loyalty.

I have to confess, I'm a Mac guy.  I've always used Macs, I always will.  However, I'm not getting paid by Apple to endorse any products.  With that said, I didn't buy the iPad this weekend.  Not just because of its $600 price tag, but because if we've learned anything from the iPhone, this alpha version of the iPad will be obsolete by Christmas.  Plus, versions two and three will likely be significantly improved and enhanced.

Still that didn't stop nearly a million people from gobbling up the latest Apple gadget.  Which leads me to the question, "why?"  Why would people be willing to shell out that kind of money for a product they KNOW will be gathering dust on a shelf within a year?  This is the magic of Apple.

Apple learned some time ago that you don't necessarily have to outsell your competitors in order to thrive and be successful.  All you need to do is create a base so loyal, they will pay hard earned money for your products until the day they die.  PC's continue to dominate the personal computer market, meaning Microsoft outsells Apple products by a significant margin worldwide.

But Apple isn't trying to sell to everyone.  Much like certain auto manufacturers or furniture makers or home builders, Apple has a specific audience and they focus all their efforts and budget on targeting that market with their product development and outreach efforts.

While Microsoft and PC's are generally viewed as better products for business, Apple targeted the creative market.  Their base consists of individuals who tend to be slightly more affluent, working in a creative field and college educated.  But then Apple went beyond just the demographics of their audience.  They went for the "cool" factor.

Apple focused on aesthetics over basic function at times, meaning even when a product failed miserably, at least it looked great.  Of course it helps that they have had way more hits than misses in their long history.

Since Apple started in an age well before social media, they had already built a very loyal following by the time Facebook and Twitter took over the scene.  But they have taken advantage of both social media and their loyal base by effetive use of outreach and interaction on various platforms and using various methods, including video, direct email, newsletters and, of course, one-on-one interaction with customers at schools, their stores and at community events.

They also know that even though Apple users are outnumbered nearly two to one worldwide, their base is very vocal and passionate.  This means Apple has supporters and voices in chatrooms all across the internet, talking up their products, their services and their organization as a whole.  Now, all it takes is a simple rumor (like iPhones will be available on the Verizon network in the Fall of 2101) to create huge buzz and keep the companies name in the headlines.

Loyalty Can Work For You Too!

As a small business owner or non-profit, you can learn from this kind of branding and brand loyalty to grow your business.  You have competitors, it's a natural state of business.  Take a look at who your competitors are marketing to.  See who they're talking to online.  Are they targeting a specific audience?  Are they trying to target everybody?  Either way it can be a boon to you.

You can target specific audiences, both in your pr efforts and your social media efforts to help build your brand, your identity and customer loyalty.  You don't have to be the biggest seller to be successful, you simply have to grow a very loyal base; people who will always come back to you for their needs.

A loyal base will also help your social media efforts explode.  These people will talk about you to their friends, their social media groups, their entire network of contacts.  It used to be a satisfied customer would tell a few people about a good experience and that would be it.  But now, these same people are reaching thousands of others through their Facebook, Twtitter, LinkedIn, etc.

This kind of thinking is why so many "cottage industries" like microbreweries are so successful.  Coors and Budweiser significantly outsells beers like Sam Adams or Buffalo Gold, but these beers and their breweries thrive because they have done such a good job at targeting their audience and then going after them aggressively and in a way that the targeted audience relates to.

And Now, A Little Tiger:

Some time ago, I posted about how well I thought the Tiger Woods press conference went.  At the time, I mentioned that I thought he did everything he needed to do in order to mitigate the damage from his, ahem, "issues".

I opined that day that I thought Tiger's image would rebound nicely, that he would recover and that once he began play again, all would be forgotten, if not immediately forgiven.  I proclaimed that he would make the talk show rounds, go on Oprah, say he was sorry and that we could all move on.

I was wrong.  Not in the fact that I thought the press conference was well handled and served its purpose, I still believe that Tiger's conference met its goals and was successful in putting a human face on a previously mysterious athlete that often seemed more automoton than human.

Here's where I, and Tiger, missed the mark.  There's still information out there to be had, still secrets to uncover, still scandals to leak.  One of the surest ways to ensure that the media, and the public at large, will be talking about you after a crisis is to withhold information.

During his press conference, Tiger met nearly all of the requirements for handling a crisis.

1.  He apologized
2.  He took responsibility
3.  He offered a solution and a timeframe to enact the solution

The problem is, he missed the fourth and key piece to any crisis communications effort; he didn't fully come clean.  Because there is still a story to be told about what really happened that night and the events leading up to the incident.  Plus, Tiger remains mum on the status of his relationship with his wife and kids.

This means reporters will continue to dig in an effort to uncover the sordid details of Tiger's married life.  Agree or not with the ethics of this, the fact remains that had Tiger come clean with everything, given details, appeared with his wife during an interview and "set the record straight" reporters simply wouldn't have anything else to write about.  At least not if Tiger told the truth.

Don't Just Go Halfway:

That key element, the one where you give all the pertinent information of a crisis is the difference between a story simply going away, or at least limiting the amount of time it exists, and a story hanging around for a long, long time.

On Thursday, Tiger will play his first round of the Masters Tournament.  Questions will surround him and the pressure will be on.  But it didn't have to be that way, at least not in the magnitude it is right now.  He could have spent his time dealing with the pressures of the tournament and answering questions about golf, instead of fielding queries about last weeks GQ tell-all article.

This is important to keep in mind anytime you or your organization faces a crisis.  If you only go halfway in handling a crisis, the results could be disasterous.  And that's a lesson best learned by Tiger's mistake rather than doing it yourself.

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